One of the largest natural gas extraction companies in the country is being allowed to resume drilling operations in a Susquehanna County community that has become synonymous with fracking and pollution from the high-volume hydraulic fracture drilling technique. 

The Associated Press reports Houston-based Coterra Energy, Inc. is being cleared by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to resume gas production in Dimock. 

Kathy Whyte/ WNBF News
Kathy Whyte/ WNBF News

According to AP, the DEP “quietly lifted its long-term moratorium in an agreement with Coterra Energy, dated November 29, the same day the Houston driller pleaded no contest in the high profile criminal case alleging the company allowed methane to leak uncontrolled into the Dimock aquifer for years."  

AP reports Coterra will continue to be prohibited from drilling new gas wells inside the moratorium area itself. But shale gas drillers like Coterra are able to drill horizontally for miles until they reach the target, meaning that even though the company will have to start their new wells outside of the prohibited area, the gas is easily within reach.

Coterra pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law in November. Its plea deal with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office requires Coterra to pay more than $16 million to fund construction of a new public water system for Dimock and to pay affected residents’ water bills for 75 years.

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AP says state officials are denying that Coterra was allowed to plead no-contest to a misdemeanor count in exchange for being allowed to drill for what could be millions of dollars-worth of natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale formation under Susquehanna County. 

AP says it obtained the agreement, which is public record. 

According to the report: Coterra will be permitted to drill horizontally underneath a 9-square-mile area of Dimock and frack the gas-bearing shale that lies thousands of feet down. That's been forbidden since 2010, when environmental regulators accused Coterra's corporate predecessor of failing to keep its promise to restore or replace Dimock's water. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who takes office as governor next month, announced the Coterra plea at a November news conference in the borough just south of Broome County, but at that time dodged questions about whether Coterra would be permitted to resume drilling in the moratorium area.   

Shapiro’s spokesperson said the plea deal was not contingent on DEP lifting the moratorium and the Attorney General’s office had no authority for setting regulating policy.

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